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“Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom, decency and justice.” US Senator Robert Kennedy

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”     Frederick Douglass

With the afore as preamble, this column, views with grave concern, the utterances of Justice Minister Delroy Chuck following the arrests of his former cabinet colleague Ruel Reid, Reid’s wife Sharen and daughter Sharelle along with Caribbean Maritime University(CMU) president Professor Fritz Pinnock and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Councillor Kim Brown Lawrence.

According to reports, Mr. Chuck is on record as accusing detectives on the case of being “salacious, in that you put so many people at these persons’ gates.” Adding, “We must be very professional in what we do.” Come now, is Mr. Chuck telling the nation that special treatment must be meted out to high society arrestees versus those arrested from the inner cities who are poor and have no links to the ruling political directorate? Is he intimating that justice should be dispensed according to class stratification?

Mr. Chuck’s utterances are inexcusable, he is no ordinary partisan political hack defending a member of his party accused and charged with serious crimes. He is an eminent lawyer; a former Rhodes scholar and a Queens Council thus his broadside against the investigators are unpardonable. Mr. Chuck needs to be fired if the average citizen is to believe that justice in this country is equal for all, that it is nonpartisan and class exempt.

The following are quotes from Chuck’s tirade and should result in his sacking. “The DPP seems to have had no additional material or evidence, and what seems so unfortunate is that the arrests took place (in a manner that) looks like Nicodemus in the night.” “I don’t get the impression that these persons are actually running away. They have made themselves available on all occasions, so in fact if an arrest should have been made, they could easily have been asked to come in so that they could be charged.”

He also spoke to the issue of bail and offered, if charges were to be laid against the person arrested as a result of the probe: “I suspect they could easily have been granted their own bail, or they could be asked to surrender their travel documents, as the case may be.” Mr. Chuck, please tell this nation when have a poor ghetto person, charged with serious crimes, been accorded such courtesy?

In doubling down in his assault on the criminal investigation, the justice minister, yes, the justice minister, was quoted as saying, “based on the little I’ve heard, it’s a further search for more material, so it seems like the authorities are still not sure what they are looking for.” Clearly, in what can only be described as an effort to undermine the police’s action, the minister questioned why the investigations were taking so long.

He is also quoted as stating, “Come to a conclusion. If you don’t have the material, report that there’s not enough material to charge. But if you go and you charge, be careful that you (don’t) charge on very limited evidence, with the end result that the cases might not go very far, and that would undermine the sort of confidence that you would have in the institution if you proceed to charge on very limited evidence and the cases turn out to be weak or dismissed by the court.”

From this column’s perspective, Mr. Chuck was acting as a defense lawyer rather than the nation’s chief justice lawyer. Coincidentally, Chuck’s daughter; attorney-at-law Carolyn Chuck was the lawyer called to the Reid’s home whilst the police were carrying out their operations at that property. That fact begets the question, in whose interest was Mr. Chuck speaking? Was he acting as his daughter’s co-advocate or was he speaking because he saw inherent problems in the execution of the arrests and frailty in the cases brought by the police? Let us hope it was the latter.

The 2002 Government of Jamaica Code governing the conduct of Ministers, Section 1 (vi) requires that Ministers ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests. I am almost certain the eminent QC knew and was aware of that rule before he uttered his embarrassing diatribe.  

His subsequent apology notwithstanding, the nation was treated to the vulgar hypocrisy of Delroy Chuck. No matter how you wish to slice it, Chuck through the aforementioned utterances, undermined the credibility and professionalism of investigators and the justice system he presides over. And to what or whose benefit? Given the PAAC investigation and the allegations derived, it is safe to say, those embroiled, recognized no legal or moral limits on their absolute right to do whatever pleased them. It is farfetched to believe members, senior members of this JLP government were not fully aware of the alleged unlawful acts being carried out by their cabinet colleague.  From the listed charges, it was extraordinary panoply of violations and pernicious practice that undermines our democracy. With that as a given, Mr. Chuck should do the honorable thing, resign as justice minister and recuse himself from future legal defense of those charged.

In recent weeks, Chuck has been extolling the progress being made by the justice ministry and one is only left to stand amazed at his chutzpah. Consequently, I will remind Mr. Chuck of a recent Sustainable Development Goals paper which was published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime:  A serious impediment to the success of any anti-corruption efforts are, corrupt justice sector institutions. Ethically compromised justice sector institutions mean that the legal and institutional mechanisms designed to curb corruption, however well-targeted, efficient or honest, remain crippled.

In addition, the wider effects of corruption on the rule of law and sustainable development are not only harmful, but destructive, in particular when the justice sector, which should embody the principles of independence, impartiality, integrity and equality, is undermined. To name just a few examples:

A corrupt act during one step of the criminal justice chain can severely harm the whole process or even nullify its essence and erode public trust in law and order.

Challenges in claiming rights and enforcing contracts in court proceedings can create an atmosphere of legal uncertainty and ultimately deter business, entrepreneurial spirit and investment.

Disrespect for the equal application of the law undermines the legitimacy of public institutions and contributes to impunity.

The last, Mr. Chuck, rules you ineligible to occupy the office of justice minister so please exit stage left. Peace!